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Princess of Wands: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Monday, September 19, 2005 19:31 EDT



    Kelly awoke to screaming.

    He had the worst headache of his life, like a pounding hammer in his head, and the screams were making it worse. But he couldn't blame Dolores, he'd be screaming too.

    He was in the nave of the old church, handcuffed and, from the feel of it, somehow shackled to the floor. The floor of the back of the nave had been removed, revealing an empty hole and, from the sounds of it, water. Apparently at one point the church had been built out over the swamp and for some reason the current group of madmen had opened it up.

    There was a low wooden altar in front of him with Carlane standing in front of it, wearing black robes with green symbols on them, his hands raised above his head and chanting in some strange language. On the far side an old-fashioned whipping post had been erected and Dolores was chained to it, hands overhead, with two men wearing robes were working her over, in turn, with a set of cat-o-nine-tails. Each time the hard-swung leather thongs touched her flesh she let out a scream. There was blood running down her back and over her legs.

    There were three other men in robes flanking Carlane, their heads bowed, chanting a low, monotonic response, and a group of worshippers, about twenty, down in the main area of the church, were waving their hands overhead and repeating the response.

    "Agathalu Almadu!" Carlane chanted. "Asertu Almadu! Thagomod Tthu!"

    "Asertu Almadu!" the robed figures chanted with the worshippers repeating.

    "Souls for you, Almadu!" Carlane said. "Come to us, Almadu! Bring us to power!"

    "Asertu Almadu!"

    The nave was lit with candles and Kelly shook his head, trying to believe he was imagining the scene. But the screams were real, and the crack of the whips in flesh.

    "Feel the pain, Lord Almadu!" Carlane shouted. "Calling to you, Lord Almadu! Pain for you, Lord Almadu! Give to us the power!"

    "Asertu, Almadu!"

    "He comes!" Carlane shouted, throwing his arms wide and his head up as if struck by something invisible. "Bring Her!" he said in a deeper tone.

    The hooker was unshackled quickly, falling to her knees in weakness, but the two men with whips expertly hoisted her up and dragged her to the altar. Then, as the other three joined them four of them grasped her arms and legs, the fifth pulled up his robes and roughly mounted her. Dolores barely let out a whimper until her body began to rock against the hard wood, rubbing her lacerated back against it and eliciting a weak shriek of pain.

    "We prepare her, Lord Almadu!" Carlane shouted. "Come to us, Lord Almadu! Asertu, Lord Almadu!"

    "Asertu, Almadu!"

    One by one the men mounted the hooker, changing off to hold one of her wrists or ankles. Kelly, his mind professionally analyzing the scene while simultaneously being horrified by it, noted that that was five of the six rapists. He was fully aware that he'd found the answer to the Ripper case. All he had to do was wait to find out who the actual killer was and who the sixth rapist was. Not that it really mattered, every single person in the building was an accessory in fact and all five of the rapists would be tried as if they were the murderer with all the rest probably getting life sentences. And Carlane, of course, was going to the chair.

    Assuming that anybody found out about this and lived. Since he was pretty sure he was a dead man. He really didn't want to be raped, though.

    "Fthagna!" Carlane shouted. "He comes for his sacrifice! The master comes!"

    The fifth acolyte quickly pumped to a finish and got off the moaning woman as the water in the opening began to boil. Kelly lifted himself up to get a better look and then wished that he hadn't.

    He told himself that he was not going insane but he really wanted to. The thing rising up out of the water was nightmare. His mind kept trying to put a definitive stamp on it, compare it to something that it found familiar, but it was too strange. A fish face, with glittering, glowing green eyes that were alive with malicious intelligence. Gill fringe, a line of raised dorsal spines, connected by webbing. Tentacles around the mouth. Huge, human-like, arms with broad hands and webbed, taloned fingers. It was monstrous, the humanoid torso at least six feet across. More tentacles sprouted from the shoulders and down the back or maybe it was long, moving, hair. None of that described the blasphemous unreality of the monster.

    At last it had emerged from the opening, which was just about wide enough for it, and stood on two frog feet, rearing thirty feet in the air. Then it bent down and its member engorged and Kelly suddenly understood who or what the last rapist was.

    Dolores let out a shriek of pain and fear as the massive member penetrated her and began thrusting, hard. The beasts bellows overrode her screams, though, drowning them out as it thrust and thrust and finally came with a last bellow.

    Kelly cracked his eyes open and then closed them again as the the thing inserted one talon in the woman's belly and ripped upward, crunching through the sternum with a sound like -popping plastic wrap. Dolores let out one final shriek of agony and then the thing inserted its hands in her chest and ripped it wide open, reaching in and tearing out her heart to stuff the beating organ in its mouth.

    Kelly tried not to retch at the wet smacking sounds as the thing fed on the entrails of the hooker. Finally he couldn't control it and threw up all over the rotting wood in front of his face.

    "Lord," Carlane said, as if that had signaled him. "We bring you another soul. Not as good as that one, but a soul nonetheless. Bring him," he added to the acolytes.



    Barb had followed the edge of the bayou, skirting behind houses and even into it once around a boathouse, headed west. But there were no vehicles, or signs of life, in that part of town. Finally, she slipped along the side of a house, blessing the apparent absence of dogs in the town, and peeked out into the road.

    There were men in the square, about seventy yards away, and others were moving from house to house, obviously searching for her. Some were too close for comfort and they were clearly moving faster than she was. She could try to hide, but she suspected they would find her; there just wasn't much good concealment around.

    But she was well away from the men and in a much darker area than they were. And they were using flashlights which would blind them. Even the men in the square were in light, some of them standing by trucks with the lights on. One of them was pointed, vaguely, in her direction. But it had only one good light, the other pointing up and to the side. And the good light was casting a pool of light about half way between her position and theirs. Her best bet was to cross to the other side and head east along the bayou. Try to double back on them. Maybe find one of the cars or trucks with keys in it.

    She held the AR-10 down by her right side, away from the searchers, and put her head down then stepped out away from the house, slowly.

    Keep your head down. Move slow. Not stealthily, just slow. Bend over. Change your silhouette. People see what they expect to see. Use shadow, there's one, a tree casting a faint shadow of reflected city light. Don't hurry. Be the night. I'm invisible. You can't see me.

    It worked. It took her nearly five minutes to cross the open area but there were no shouts of discovery, no fire from the searchers. Whatever their prior plans, after the chaos she'd left in her room they had to be planning on killing her on sight.

    She moved quickly past a house and then down to the bayou, turning left and hefting her weapon. She figured that she'd come back up by the old church where she'd be behind them.

    She had made it to the area behind the courthouse when she heard the first scream. There was a faint crack of a whip along with it. And it seemed to be coming from the church.

    "Oh, no," she muttered. "You are not going to play paladin. Get the hell out. Bring reinforcements."

    She moved forward cautiously, skirting the group by the square with extreme care, then moved up away from the bayou as her skin started to prickle. Suddenly she saw herself chained, Mark on top of her thrusting into her like she was being raped. She forced the image out of her mind and gave a brief prayer asking forgiveness. She knew her demons and she'd fought them her whole life. Suddenly there was another flash, the pleasure she'd felt twisting that one bastard's arm completely out of socket. It hadn't been, strictly, necessary. She'd let her anger take charge.

    She kept moving, fighting vision after vision. Herself submitting in a way the Bible never envisioned. Killing the stupid bitches like Marcie Taylor's mother that thought they were so holier than thou. Sex with Kelly, him taking her, hard, holding her hands down and using foul language, her own voice joining in.

    She couldn't stop the visions, but with each one she said a prayer for forgiveness, asking that the Lord exorcise the demons that worked on her soul and help her fight the evil that lurked in every human. The Lord would forgive her her occasional bad thought, she knew that. Jesus had died for mankind's sins and he had promised forgiveness to his chosen people. She had lived her life as a Christian, a good Christian lady and wife. She had brought her children up as good Christians, and good people, which sometimes wasn't the same thing.

    "Lord, give me strength," she prayed, quietly. "Come into me and give me the strength of Samson, the wisdom of Solomon, the power of Jesus to forgive my tormentors even as they nail me to the cross. Help me, Lord, please, in this hour of my need. Be my staff of strength."

    She was at the wall of the church without even realizing that she'd been walking there, her mind half in reality and half in the land of vision. But as she stepped up to the church she felt a shock, hot and cold running over her body as if cold fire had been poured into her veins. For just a moment she wondered if she'd gone insane, as bestial bellows echoed in the church and through the night swamp. But then the visions were gone, replaced by a sense of peace. But not an inactive peace. She felt a presence urging her to something, something vital, and she slipped to the side looking for what she knew must be there.

    She didn't know much about cars or swamps or monsters taking over holy ground. But she knew churches. And they all had a side door.



    Kelly struggled as hard as he could but with four men holding him there wasn't anything he could do. He was thrown down on the blood spattered altar and looked up into the face of the beast that had just slaughtered Dolores. What was that thing about spitting to show you weren't afraid? He couldn't have spit for the life of him. His mouth was dry and he realized that he'd pissed himself. He didn't care, he was about to die and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it.

    "PD is going to chop you up and feed you to the gators," Kelly said, looking at Carlane.

    "By the time they come here, we will be gone," Carlane said, laughing and holding up a hand to forestall the beast. "My master is complete, fully manifest. No power on earth can stop him. But we will go. We will hide and bide our time. Build our strength. And then . . . the day of the Dragon will come again." He waved to the beast and stood back, avoiding the blood that was about to be shed.



    She had seen a steel gas tank outside the building when they had been asking futile questions. All she had to do was get inside. What she was planning was going to make her a felon at the very least. It would probably be a capital charge. Again, she wondered if she was going insane, but she knew, with rock hard certainty, that this was the Lord's work. And if the Lord wanted her to do it, she would.

    The door, unfortunately, was locked. But that presented no real problem. She took one of the empty pop bottles out of her bag and held it against the opening on the barrel of her .45. Then she waited for another of those bestial bellows and fired a round into the lock. The sound was not as quiet as it should have been, the bottle caught most of the exiting gas that created the distinctive "crack" of a pistol shot, but some of it worked out around the edges with a sound about like a squib. This was when she needed duct tape and she chastised herself for neglecting it. However, the lock crumpled, the rotted wood shattering around it, and she dropped the bottle on the ground.

    The room beyond was dark and the bellows from within the church were unnerving. But she found what she was looking for down one of the hallways. The kitchen was rank with the smell of rotting food but it had been in recent use. She turned on one of the burners and ensured that the gas was hooked up then set the AR-10 down and waited for another bellow.

    What she got instead was a shriek of mortal agony but that would do. As the sound echoed she tore at the oven with hysterical strength, dragging it out and away from the wall. Then she clambered over it until she found the copper gas line, using her knife, which had a serrated portion, to saw at the line until she smelled gas leaking out. She sawed some more, pushing the line apart and hearing a hiss.

    That left only one thing to do. She picked up the AR-10, stepping into the hallway as the smell of gas became overwhelming, and flipped it off safe and onto semi-auto. Then she walked to the door that should lead to the nave, under which faint light was trailing, and shook her head.

    "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil," she whispered. "For I am the baddest bitch in the valley."

    With that she kicked the door in.



    Well, at least it's not going to rape me, Kelly thought as one giant talon reached down for him. Then there was a shot. And another. And the thing straightened up, turning its fish head to the side.

    He craned his head around as one of the acolytes fell across him, his face pulped from a round through the back of his head, and saw the strangest thing he'd ever seen, including the giant monster that had been about to gut him.

    It was a ninja, holding what looked very much like his AR-10, with a white shining all around him like a giant halo.

    Make that "her." The tits were distinctly noticeable.



    Barb leapt through the door and took a kneeling position, scanning for targets. It was what her father would call a target rich environment. The nave was crowded with worshippers and there were several men up in the nave. There was also a giant fish thing which seemed to be preparing to rip Detective Lockhart wide open. But, for some reason, her barrel tracked onto the back of the head of the man standing at the altar and her finger stroked the trigger.

    The head burst like a melon, pitching the man forward, and the giant thing straightened up as she shot two of the robed figures. Then it reached down and casually raked its talons across Detective Lockhart' stomach, following that with picking up one of the robed figures and biting his head off.

    By then the worshippers had started to react and she turned left, firing five rounds into five bodies and clearing some space. That done she darted towards the altar, dodging a grab by the giant fish thing, to reach Detective Lockhart.

    He was badly torn on the stomach and the thing was standing right over him. So Barb flicked the lever to full auto and emptied the rest of the magazine into its belly.

    The thing let out a bellow of pain, but the wounds closed as fast as the rounds struck, just making little pock marks like rocks dropped in a pond. The thing reached for her again and she dove to the side, rolling to her feet and slipping another magazine into the well.

    As she dove to the side, the thing appeared to forget about her, stepping down off the chancel and picking up another worshipper. It gutted the man with a move like a fisherman gutting his catch and then ripped the man's chest open and started feasting.

    Barb trotted to the wounded sergeant and pulled him off the bloodstained altar, dragging him away from the kitchen side of the building.

    "Can you stand up?" she asked, pulling as hard as she could. But he was a big guy and she was running on pure adrenaline.

    "No," Kelly said, blood foaming at his mouth. "Go. Get out."

    "Fuck that," she spat, lifting him into a fireman's carry and heading for the other side of the church. There was a door there that led directly into the nave. It was padlocked, but she was more than willing to blow the hinges off if that was what it took. The worshippers had headed for the back of the church, fleeing their "god" so they weren't going to be a problem.

    But her move had brought her to the attention of the fish monster and it shambled towards her before she could even make it to the stairs down from the chancel.

    "Begone!" she shouted, rolling Kelly down to the floor and holding up her left hand, the right holding the AR-10 like a pistol, tucked into her body. "Begone in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ! Go back to the Hell you belong in!"

    The thing seemed to shudder at her shout but raised a giant-hand to strike her down.

    So she pulled the trigger.

    What came out was nothing she'd ever seen before, a line of white fire, as if each of the rounds were white tracers and every one ran true. At the touch of the fire the thing shrieked and backed up. So when that magazine was done she slapped in the last and gave that to him, semi-auto this time, every round aimed. By the time she was done, he had backed up half way down the nave and was on his knees, black smoke pouring from his chest, abdomen and head. But even as she watched, the damage was healing.

    She hefted Kelly again and shambled for the door as fast as she could. Finally she got to it and smashed the lock with the buttstock of the gun, shattering it and making the weapon useless. So she tossed it to the side and stumbled out into the night.

    Kelly was a dead weight, unconscious or dead she wasn't sure. But there were cars and trucks parked under the trees and she kept heading for them on weaker and weaker legs, reaching down to draw her .45. There was a bellow behind her and she looked over her shoulder, with difficulty, to see the monster tearing at the door she had exited through. It seemed a little pissed.

    There had been candles in the chancel. A couple of them had fallen over but gone out in the blood. The rest . . . propane was heavier than air. But even though most of it would pool along the ground, some was bound to raise up. When, when?

    As she was thinking that the world went white and she was thrown off her feet.

    She could only have been unconscious for a moment because when she got to her knees pieces of the church were still raining down around her. The fish thing had disappeared but from the screams from within the burning building, she guessed that he was having a fine old fish-fry.

    "All that catfish and so little time," she muttered.

    She looked at Kelly and shook her head at all the damage. Besides what was obviously a flailed chest he'd caught some splinters from the exploding church. Feeling for a pulse at the neck she got nothing. It didn't seem fair to have carried him this far and have him die on her.

    "Fuck," she muttered. "Fuck, fuck, fucking fuck . . ."

    Some of the former worshippers were still on the ground from the explosion, others were getting to their feet. She walked over to the nearest one and put the barrel of her gun to his forehead.

    "Give me your fucking keys," she ground out.

    When the dazed man had handed them over she picked him up by the front of his shirt.

    "Which one?" she asked.

    "Red truck," he muttered, pointing. "What happened?"

    "I killed your fucking god," Barb said, throwing him to the ground and trotting to the truck. She realized as she did so that it was the mechanic. "AND MY CAR HAD BETTER BE READY ON MONDAY!" Well, at least the truck should work.



    Mondaine turned at the shots from the church and swore.

    "The bitch got behind us!"

    "Who the fuck is she?" Henri Lancereau cursed.

    "I don't know," Mondaine said, trotting for his police car. "But she is going to die tonight. If we can't give her soul to the Master, then we'll just have to send it to hell."

    He hurried to his car and drove to the church, pulling up out front in a squeal of tires. But even as he started for the front door a wave of people came rushing out. Suddenly, with the sound of a hail of bullets, his head exploded in pain.

    He sank to the ground, moaning, at the white fire that filled his head. He was usually one of the acolytes and his link to the Master was strong. Now it filled him with pain as the Master was filled with pain. But it stopped and he stumbled to his feet, shaking his head to clear it.

    "What's happening?" he yelled as people streamed by. "What's happening?"

    He pulled his shotgun out of the car, heading for the front and then angling to the side. It sounded like the Master was at the back left for some reason. He was trotting around the side when the building erupted.

    When he came to, he felt a horrible wash of dread. The link he'd felt to his Master this last six months was gone. It felt as if the Master was gone. He suddenly remembered, unshielded by the power that had filled him, all the things he'd done, all the women he had raped and killed before the Master's first manifestation and raped and helped to kill since. The pleasure that he'd gotten from it, and still did. He had gone to the Master freely.

    But with the Master gone, retribution was sure to fall on all of them. Unless . . . it would be hard to cover up. But nobody in the town would talk; they were all implicated. A fire in the old church. People dead. They could clean up the remains of the hooker. He wasn't sure what would be left of the Master.

    If . . .

    That bitch. There was one fucking witness. What she would say would seem insane, but she could point fingers, talk about things best left buried.

    Where the fuck was she? Dead in the church?

    But then he saw a figure, striding across the parking lot. A look, a move.


    He stumbled to his feet, looking around. Many of the Cult of Almadu had not come freely to the worship and apparently, bereft of their cozy link to the Master, many of them had gone insane. Others were sitting with their heads in their hands or stumbling around drunkenly.

    He had to stop her. He saw the bitch getting in Claude Thibideau's red pickup and hurried back to his squad car.

    It was a long way to the next town.



    One of the things Barbara had been careful to carry along was the hand-held GPS she used for navigation. She started the truck, put on her seatbelt, pulled the GPS out of her backpack, unfolded the little suction cup thingy and slapped it on the windshield. Then she put the truck in gear and floored it, spinning gravel and squealing tires as she hit the blacktop.

    The GPS was taking a while to find satellites, but that was okay. The first possible turn wasn't for a few miles. She put the headlights on bright, pressed the accelerator down and settled down to put miles between herself and Thibideau. She wasn't sure what she was going to tell the authorities. Tell them it was attempted rape by the deputy? Anything to get them into the town, asking questions. Or, maybe, just walk away? No, that was the wrong thing in the eyes of the Lord.

    Oh . . . heck. The things she'd said. And done.

    "Dear Lord, please forgive me for some of my words, thoughts and actions this night. I really was . . . well, I'm sorry . . ."

    She was a half mile out of town, approaching the first curve, when she saw lights behind her, closing fast.



    The parish car was an unmodified Ford Crown Victoria, but there was no way that a pickup truck could outrun it on the bayou roads. It was lower to the ground and could take the turns faster, not to mention being faster in the straight away. Slowly, he gained ground. And there was nothing around, nowhere for her to go but straight on. He'd push her off the road, put a bullet in her head if she was still alive and then feed her body to the gators. He wasn't getting anywhere close to the bitch after what she'd done to Claude and Marceau and the rest. What was she, a fucking ninja? Soccer mom my ass. The truck could get pulled out and dumped. Or fixed up. Whatever. No witnesses meant no witnesses. Probably some of the people in town would have to be . . . cleaned up as well. More gator food. Save that for later.

    He'd closed from better than a mile to less than a hundred yards. All he had to do was run her off the road.



    "You'd think a mechanic would soup up his own truck," Barbara muttered as the police car started to drift to the left. He was going to try to hit her on the rear end and spin her out. At the speed she was going, she was likely to go into a roll. And that would be that.

    "Fine," she muttered. "You wanna dance. Let's fu . . . let's dance."

    She slammed on her brakes and pulled to the left, fighting the truck as it tried to get away from her.



    The truck suddenly braked, swerving to the left and caught his right front quarter panel. He was going nearly a hundred miles an hour and the slight change in vector pulled the car into an out-of-control spin. The last thing Deputy Sheriff Mondaine saw was the tree-trunk headed for his windshield.



    The impact had jarred the truck and Barbara fought it for as long as she could. She'd gotten it down under forty, skidding all over the road and headed for a curve, when the right front tire hit the grass on the shoulder and sent the truck into a spin. It made it half way through and then started to roll. Barbara saw grass and trees and then the water reaching up for her.

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